Beyond Good Intentions: The Promise and Peril of Citizen Engagement with Foreign Policy

May 17, 2011

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Global Ethics Forum TV Show

What were the accomplishments and failures of the U.S. grassroots movements that responded to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and how do these lessons apply to grassroots movements in general?

RACHEL DAVIS: For those of you who don't know me, I'm Rachel Davis. I'm a member of the Carnegie New Leaders Program. I'm also a legal adviser to the special representative of the UN secretary-general on business and human rights.

Now that we have my incredibly long title out of the way, we can focus on Bec. Bec is the reason we are all here this evening.

I just listened to her respond to a question: What do you do? She said, "Well, I'm hard to define."

I think that's true, but I'm going to have a go.

Bec is an author and a journalist and, I'm also pleased to say, a friend. She is the author of Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide. She is also the special correspondent on Sudan with The Washington Post, she is a Pulitzer Center grantee, and she is a fellow at the New America Foundation.

The book is the result of Bec's multiyear investigation, with over 150 interviews—I don't know how many declassified documents she has managed to obtain—into the citizen engagement and advocacy movement that grew up around Darfur. She herself was very involved, in the early days particularly of that movement. In fact, she has been called one of the earliest and the most influential Darfur activists.

The book that she has written, I can say from my own experience, is readable, thoughtful, but also a very humble account. It's told particularly through the eyes of four other important activists in the movement. Bec's voice comes in at the end of the book. That's quite unusual, for any author to manage to restrain herself.

It explores the promises and the risks of the mass citizen engagement and advocacy approach. That's really what we are here to talk about this evening. The conversation is framed by the conflict and policy debates over Darfur, but we really want to focus on the citizen engagement aspect.

With that, I would like to ask Bec the first question: Can you tell us a little bit about how you actually came to write this book in the first place?

Firstly, thank you for that incredibly gracious introduction, and to CNL for hosting the conversation.

If I go back to the origins of this book, I would have to start by saying I was a student activist. I was on the Harvard Law School campus when then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that what was happening in Darfur was genocide. This was the first time that the executive branch of any government in the world had made such a declaration while the violence was ongoing. I was involved in the leadership of a divestment campaign. Timely this week to note is that Osama bin Laden was hosted by Sudan in the 1990s. Only after they expelled him did he go to Afghanistan and, it turns out now, Pakistan.

It wasn't an issue of getting U.S. companies out of Sudan; it was predominantly Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian oil companies that were in there. The idea of the divestment campaign was that there were a lot of organizations in the United States—universities being one of them, but also, eventually, state legislatures—that had invested in corporations that were doing business in Sudan.

It started on this divestment campaign, but it was taking place in the context of a broader conversation that was going on, certainly on campuses and more broadly as well, about the promise of creating a citizen outcry on an issue of genocidal mass atrocity. Just a couple of years earlier, Samantha Power had written the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide. She happened to be my academic supervisor at the time. In the conversation, there was a huge amount of hope around what creating an outcry from American citizens could accomplish. So she was involved in the beginnings of that.

But a couple of years in, I was traveling back and forth to Sudan, and following pretty closely what was happening on the policy level, and I was seeing a real mismatch between these enormous expectations of this growing citizen movement and the realities on the ground in Darfur. So the book began just as a very simple, genuine question of why; what accounted for this mismatch?

When I was looking around for answers to that question, there was just nothing that I could find that was useful out there. You had voices from inside the advocacy movement that, to caricature them only slightly, wanted to say that advocacy was responsible for everything positive that had ever happened in Sudan, and advocates just needed to do bigger, stronger, and louder. You had voices outside the advocacy movement who wanted to say that advocates were just idiots who should stop interfering and go home.

I felt like the truth probably had to lie somewhere in between, but there was very little in the way of facts in the conversation. It was hard to work out where that in-between might lie, unless you actually went back and reconstructed piece by piece what advocates were doing at each point, what they thought they were accomplishing, and reconstruct the policy process as well. You also could not assume that just because advocates were saying they wanted something, that was the reason why policymakers perhaps did do it.

So that was the origins of the book and where it ended up.

When we are sitting here this evening and talking about citizen engagement, what does that mean to you? How would you define that? How does it differ from traditional human-rights—elite, if you like, policymaking and advocacy?

REBECCA HAMILTON: For the purposes of this conversation, it's probably useful to define the people that we are talking about as people who are not getting a salary from a policy or human-rights organization. We are talking about the bulk of the people who have a job doing something completely different, who have family and work commitments, and their advocacy is something that they are squeezing in in their free time, on a completely voluntary basis. It's important to make that distinction between that kind of advocacy and your more traditional model, because it helps explain some of the risks that come up with it.

RACHEL DAVIS: Speaking of risks, and also benefits—maybe we'll take benefits first—through your analysis in the book and from your personal experience, what do you think were the benefits of citizen engagement in this case? As you have said, a lot of people really touted it as being a solution. That was very much what Samantha Power had been advocating. But how do you see it?

If I can take a little step back and just speak more broadly before I get into the specifics of the benefits on Darfur, the promise of having citizens engaged is that we know that with government on its own there is a status quo there that may not always be in the place that we want it to be.

The promise of citizen engagement is that you can disrupt that status quo a little, and shift the attention of the government to places that it wouldn't normally go on a traditional national-interest calculation. This applies to a lot of human-rights issues. If government business as usual continues, you may not get the sort of focus that you want to get on issues that are affecting people in a place like Darfur, a predominantly Muslim area with no oil and no clear strategic interest.

On that basic metric of shifting the government agenda there are huge benefits to citizen engagement. You certainly saw that agenda-setting role play out quite well on Darfur, if you are taking Darfur as the place that you are wanting to succeed at. I would argue slightly differently if you are looking at the impact on the whole of Sudan.

But in terms of specifics, things that citizen engagement could do that the elite model couldn't do: Between 2005 and 2008, they got $2 billion worth of congressional appropriations for Darfur, which, in context, was second only to Iraq and Afghanistan, tenfold more than any other country in Africa.

That's not because Darfur, one region of Sudan, had tenfold greater need than, say, the entirety of Congo. But what you find is that it's a very different conversation that happens when you have a mass constituency backing up your claim.

Rather than the elite human-rights or humanitarian conversation—you need to appropriate this amount of funding because there is this number of needs and it's the right thing to do—you get to do that entire spiel plus, "By the way, if you don't appropriate that funding, we've got voters in your district that can raise hell." That was a credible threat. By doing very simple things—issuing scorecards, grading members of Congress on how they were responding to Darfur—they very quickly were able to get the attention of Congress.

The other area where you saw a huge impact was in media coverage. Typically we know that the media tends to jump from crisis to crisis. In February, Egypt was the only thing that we could see. Today, getting anything other than Osama bin Laden just seems about impossible. Part of the reason is that there will still be journalists who are pitching, say, the Egypt story in March or in April, but what they are getting from their editors is, "I'm not sure it's newsworthy anymore. The public don't seem to still be interested."

Part of the reason the public isn't showing any interest is because they are not seeing it covered in the media. So you get into this catch-22 situation.

What citizen advocacy was able to do was to completely flip that around by making sure that every time there was an article even vaguely related to Darfur, they mobilized citizens to be writing letters to the editor, to get in touch with the news organizations, saying, "Thank you for covering this. We want to see more of this. We are reading it." Then if you go back and look at the numbers, what you see is 50 percent greater print media coverage three years into the crisis than when the crisis first broke. That's just something that you don't naturally see.

So it can certainly have huge impacts in certain areas.

And through some very straightforward approaches, like the scorecard. I was really struck by that.

REBECCA HAMILTON: That is something that domestic lobby groups have known how to do for decades.

RACHEL DAVIS: For decades, yes. So then if we look at risks?

REBECCA HAMILTON: That's where it gets more interesting. We could spell out the benefits from the theory. The risks only became much clearer when you actually tried to take the theory and put it into practice.

I highlight two risks. Both are inherent in the model of reaching this crowd that is essentially volunteers.

Number one is simplification. To state the obvious, if you are going to reach a nonexpert audience, you have to simplify. There's just no way around it. If you had asked everybody to read even one book on Sudan before they attended a rally, you couldn't turn out tens of thousands of people on the National Mall. So you have to simplify that as the realm of operation that you are in.

If you talk to cognitive psychologists, one of the things that they will say is that if you are trying to get people to intake new information, it's useful to hang it on a preexisting schema. That was certainly something that we saw happening on Darfur. The schema of reference was Rwanda, which, ten years after the Rwanda genocide, was something that actually a pretty significant amount of the U.S. public knew something about. They may not have known a whole lot, but enough to feel a guilt associated with it. By talking about Darfur as a Rwanda in slow motion, it became a framework through which people could understand a place that they in fact knew nothing about.

There is an interesting media story about how Rwanda was the framework through which people started to understand Darfur. It didn't have to be that way. There was a Darfur story you could have told that was actually about the north and south of Sudan and the peace agreement, and that coming together at the same time as you had a rebellion in Darfur. The media never picked up on that story.

The people at the elite level who were trying to get the message out about Darfur found that it was just more successful as a news hook to get it in through the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. You actually had atrocities happening in Darfur throughout 2003 that were completely missed by everybody. What put it into the limelight was this news hook that came up around the tenth anniversary of Rwanda.

So simplification is a necessary evil in terms of building a movement. When you really get into problems is when that simplification, that narrative, also becomes your basis for proposing solutions. This was a huge problem for the Darfur movement. Not only did they get into Darfur through Rwanda, but their initial set of policy solutions was very much, "Let us right the wrongs of Rwanda. Let's do everything that people said we should have done during Rwanda."

There was a big failure to update, both in the sense that Darfur was not Rwanda and also that the lessons learned from Rwanda had been written at a very particular point in world history. They had been written after the end of the Cold War, before the invasion of Iraq, and during a peak of U.S. hard and soft power, when there was a huge amount of faith in what America could do if it led the world on these issues. These lessons just did not fit when you cut-and-pasted them over to Darfur, in a post-invasion of Iraq scenario.

The other big risk that comes with doing mass movement advocacy is what sometimes gets called "feeding the beast." There's a need for success. If you are talking about volunteers, you are talking about people who have worked a full day in a completely different job, who are running around trying to look after the kids, doing everything else, and you are expecting them to then spend that half an hour when they could be getting sleep to be organizing a petition for your issue. They are not going to keep doing that over time unless they feel that they are actually making a difference. So you have to show them success.

Now, that's all well and good if you have actual success to show them. What if you don't? What if, as a result of this confluence of the simplification and bleeding over into pushing for the wrong solutions, it means that you don't have real success on the ground to show them?

Then you start getting into really nasty territory in which you are having to come up with successes, and so you bleed into a sort of redefinition of what success is. Success is no longer that Darfur is safe enough for refugees to return to their homes; success is—and this is perhaps an unfair example—whether we as a movement can send 10,000 emails to the secretary of state and crash her inbox. Victory! But all the time this is not actually getting anything done for Darfur.

That's one extreme. There are a whole lot of middle-range options that are components that go towards building alternate success.

The other thing, in addition to the general need to show success, is the risk that you are skewing your policy towards what the movement needs to hear to sustain itself, by which I mean things that can occur on a relatively quick timeline. In particular—and this is the one that I would highlight as problematic in the Darfur situation—things that are visible. One of the advocacy leaders in the book refers to it as, you don't want to lose people to the nothing-I'm-doing-is-making-a-difference disease, and so you have to have visible success to show them.

That's fine, if it lines up with what your situation actually needs. But what if your situation actually needs something that is not going to be visible, the conversations that are taking place quietly behind the scenes? As an advocacy movement, you end up in a bit of a difficult situation.

So these are the risks that are inherent in the model. I don't think that they are necessarily impossible to overcome. But there needs to be a whole lot more consciousness of the fact that those risks exist and a willingness to deal with them.

That cycle that you describe, which was really clear to me when I was reading the book—this need to show solutions in order to make people feel rewarded for participating, in order to ensure their continued engagement—can quite quickly become a vicious one. It requires real leadership to manage that, and it's needed both within the advocacy movement itself and also on the policy side.

In that regard, I'm really struck by one of the anecdotes that you tell, which was from one of the cables that you had released.

Yes. This was the U.S. special envoy to Sudan during the period, Andrew Natsios, a guy who knows a lot about Sudan. He is writing to the then-deputy secretary of state and laying out in black and white that the media and the advocacy groups are pushing us in a direction that we don't need to go in order to solve this. However, he adds—and this is the sort of terrifying part of it—it would be politically dangerous to correct the misperceptions that the advocacy community has.

What is your job as a policymaker here? You have an advocacy movement that is increasingly growing in political power and pushing you in one direction. You as the policymaker are thinking this is actually not the direction that we need to go to solve the situation. Is it not your responsibility as a policymaker to follow where the solution lies?

Easy to say that; perhaps harder to do it in practice; perhaps different depending on what your role within the government is. It is different if you are a member of Congress than if you are a career civil servant—factoring in, in addition, the skepticism that we have, particularly in America, which is often a very healthy skepticism, of government. Who is going to take Andrew Natsios at his word when he says, "You've actually got this wrong, and I think I know better"?

Oftentimes, the government will have it wrong on these issues, and there is a role for pushback. But again, this is where we get into these complex situations, where you have a divergence between what the advocacy movement thinks and needs, and what the situation itself thinks and needs.

RACHEL DAVIS: I want to use the moderator's perogative to ask you one more question and then open it up to everyone else.

You talk in the book and in a number of things that you have written recently about the fact that we are stuck in a rather state-centric model of citizen engagement, particularly—and this flows on from Samantha Power's work—an American-centric model. That is really interesting, given that, as we all know, we are in a time of global threats, global challenges, global opportunities, however you like to look at it. Should citizen engagement go global? What would that mean? Would that actually be a good thing?

One of the quotes in the book was from Gloria White Hammond, one of the activists that you were focusing on, who said, "What would a civil rights movement be without African Americans? What would a women's rights movement be without women?"

Can it go global, and if it does, how do you involve the people who are actually affected and on whose behalf you are ostensibly advocating?

There's more than one piece to that question, Rachel.

RACHEL DAVIS: Actually, there are about five.

REBECCA HAMILTON: We are in this changing world, and the model that we have in the Darfur case is out of step with some of the shifting power realities in the world. A lot of the stuff that I said were benefits of citizen engagement, were benefits in terms of the fact that they shook up the U.S. domestic political system. That might be great, but what can the United States alone do? Not very much.

In fact, having the United States push out in front may in some cases be detrimental. It often was on Darfur, because you had the Sudanese government being able to spin this in the Arab media as the United States trying to invade a third Muslim country. So having citizens push the United States to get out in front is not always going to be the best approach.

That doesn't mean that getting U.S. domestic politics right and winning that argument in Washington is not important. But where does that take you to at a policy level? Maybe you want them pushing for a multilateral approach—this leading-from-behind concept that we are starting to talk about with Libya.

But what's interesting to me is seeing these sorts of constituencies of conscience that are starting to grow up. They are growing up around issues like climate change, human trafficking, mass atrocities—issues that are very global in nature to solve.

One argument would be that the citizen movement that started here should just stay at doing what it's good at, which is the noise-making function in the U.S. domestic political system. That's what it does. If other people want to play a different role, they can jump in.

Or you can say, if we are going to get engaged, we need to actually think seriously about what real solutions will involve. If that means going beyond what the United States can do, then how do we start those conversations?

There are interesting players in the global system right now. When you look at this BRICs bloc that is emerging—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and now South Africa—you have three democracies in that. What is happening in the democratic systems in Brazil, India, and South Africa around some of these issues? What it would take to move those systems is obviously not going to be what it would take to move the U.S. Congress, and you wouldn't want to try to make a cut-and-paste mistake. But are those some of the conversations that could start?

One of 12 chapters in the book that is quite inspiring is when citizens targeted China and threw out all the conventional wisdom that we have on China, which is, "Ask any expert. You can't move Beijing's foreign policy by public shaming. The only way to do it is quietly, gently, behind the scenes."

They threw that all out to this very un-nuanced campaign called "The Genocide Olympics." Looking at it from the outside, you would think that this is a total disaster, but it actually ended up being incredibly effective within the window where they had leverage, which was right up in the buildup to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It wasn't that they got Beijing to really care about human rights in Darfur, but they cared very much about their own image in the buildup to the Olympics, and you got some shifts in policy over that period.

Even if you are stuck in the United States, are there times when you can go after other players in the system? More generally, beyond a state model at all, how are we building connections between different communities and engaging diaspora more generally, something that the Darfur movement was incredibly late to come to?

That's just a few of the issues.

I'm Josh Smilovitz, International Crisis Group.

I'm curious how you relate the current Darfur movement, in particular to the Sudan election earlier in the year and a new state coming about, as well as Libya and how the responsibility to protect is being implemented.

REBECCA HAMILTON: Can I just hook a little bit of that back to something that I wanted to say earlier on this simplification challenge? The leaders of the Darfur movement were aware that there was a simplified story that was out there and increasingly aware, as you headed into 2008 in particular, that they were focusing on Darfur to the detriment of the rest of Sudan as a whole.

For anyone who is not a "Sudanophile" in the audience, just as the conflict in Darfur was erupting, you had the Sudanese government signing a peace agreement with rebels in the south of the country that brought to an end what had been the longest-running civil conflict in Africa. One of the negative consequences of having had this huge spotlight on Darfur was that the implementation of that north-south peace agreement got a lot less attention than it probably should have. Talking to people in the State Department, at one point they thought they were spending probably 70 percent of their time on Darfur, with 30 percent left on the rest of Sudan, because the movement was so successful and it was attracting attention to Sudan.

But there were leaders within the movement who were conscious that this was happening and, in 2008, tried to start a conversation about what else was going on in the rest of Sudan. It took them two years to get that message out to the base, because you are talking in sound bites. They are, unfortunately, not reading Crisis Group policy papers.

That did happen over the course of two years, and we saw by 2010 a consciousness that there were other things happening in Sudan, including what was supposed to be this democratic transformative election, which turned out to be nothing of the sort.

More recently, there has been the refocus on South Sudan, almost to the detriment of Darfur. This is something that I'm seeing the whole time. We can't seem to look at Sudan as a whole; we can only spotlight one part of the country at a time, and whenever we spotlight one part of the country, lots of bad things happen in the rest of the country. We're seeing that a little bit today with South Sudan. The people who were involved in the Darfur movement have finally, two years late—arguably, five years late—caught up with the South Sudan story, but are finding it really difficult to keep the citizen volunteers engaged on the two stories at once.

That may be a failure of the narrative that you tell. Why do we keep telling a narrative just about Darfur or just about the birth of the new nation of South Sudan? Why not a story that is able to integrate the two? It's there for the taking.

On Libya, there were a lot of questions among Darfur advocates. Having done five years of massive campaigning and millions and millions of dollars to try to get something moving on Darfur, suddenly Libya seemed to happen overnight, and there was a lot of head scratching. We thought, well, maybe we're not needed after all.

That's not necessarily the right answer. Every situation is different. You had particular factors coming together in Libya. The decision of the Arab League to say to the UN Security Council, "We want a no-fly zone," was so critical, because that made it much more difficult for the usual veto-threateners on the Security Council, in particular China and Russia, whose status-quo position is always nonintervention. If you had the key regional player saying, "We want something done," then what leg do you have to stand on? This is maybe a reflection again of the fact that so much of this is taking place in this shifting global geopolitical realm, where this old idea that the Darfur movement was founded on—that if you could just get the United States pushing out in front—is certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Save Darfur and the Genocide Intervention Network [GI-NET], which were two of the key players in this movement, have now merged. They have yet to rename and redefine themselves. It's going to be really interesting to see if they can do serious lessons-learned scrutiny and self-reflection on the experience, including picking up the stuff that did work, and build that into a permanent constituency against mass atrocities.

There are differing views as to whether a permanent constituency model is even the right way to go, whether in fact permanent constituency means that you are at heightened risk of this need for success, feed-the-beast thing that goes on, and maybe you would be better just doing your short, sharp campaigns. On the other hand, it's not easy to generate a volunteer base from scratch. It takes time. If you are trying to do it from scratch each and every time that a crisis hits, you are always going to be too late.

So that's going to be interesting to see.

QUESTION: Marc Jacquand. I'm an advisor at the United Nations on post-conflict responses.

You mentioned this person who has a full-time job, takes care of the kids, and then gets involved. I was wondering if you could talk about the motivation and the arguments that drive this person to be engaged—specifically on Darfur—and what kinds of principles underlie that person's engagement. Depending on the motivation and the arguments, there are ethical repercussions and there are risks involved.

I don't know if you talk about that in the book, but I would be interested to get your thoughts on it.

REBECCA HAMILTON: I totally agree with you. On Darfur, again because of this Rwanda analogy, the message was to be an "upstander"—this is the key word within the Darfur movement—be an upstander, not a bystander to genocide, and to make "never again" real. There are a couple of catchphrases that are core in speaking the language of this movement and a couple of anecdotes that became really powerful. Going back to the idea of talking to people in sound bites, you are also talking to people in anecdotes.

The one that became particularly powerful in the formation of the Darfur movement was something recounted in Problem from Hell, but picked up elsewhere, that the late senator Paul Simon had said after Rwanda, which was, "If every member of the Congress had received 100 letters from people once the crisis was happening, then it would have turned out differently."

The idea that brought people into a movement was that you could be one of those people who wrote one of those 100 letters. If that was all it took to save lives, then what on earth were you doing not writing that letter? It was a sense of tapping into the "never again" story from the Holocaust onwards—and you did see a huge Jewish constituency involved on that narrative—a sense of failure when the stories were told about Rwanda, particularly if you put them in the light of, "We didn't need to fail. It would have been so easy to stop it had you just written your letter to your senator."

I'm simplifying, but these are the simplifying stories that are told.

One of the key thematics that is in a story that may allow the building of a citizen movement, or at least took to build a citizen movement in this case—I wonder if you could do it without this, and it would be helpful if you could—what it had was this element of "you are absolutely vital to the success or failure of this story."

I'm harking back to my psychology roots again. You will know the story that gets told of Kitty Genovese, who was a woman who was stabbed, raped, and ultimately murdered in New York City in the 1960s, whilst, so the story goes, there were all these people in the apartments who heard her cries and didn't do anything. It gets you to the bystander effect, which is, if there are lots of people that know that something is going on, you would think there would be more people to help, but actually what happens is that everybody thinks everybody else will do it.

This is a story that gets told, perhaps not in those terms, but that's the theme of citizen organizing: Don't think that everybody else will do this. It is up to you. If you don't do it, then perhaps nobody else will. It's your voice that makes a difference.

The other part of it is to really think, not only that your voice makes a difference, but your voice is the dividing line between life and death for Darfuris. The argument is not that your involvement is a necessary but not sufficient condition, which is probably the reality of the matter. The argument hews much closer to, "Your voice is necessary and sufficient to solve this crisis."

QUESTION: I want to ask a specific and a general question about the United Nations. The specific question is, where did the United Nations factor into this specific case? The general question is, what does that tell us about citizen engagement with the United Nations?

There are arguments that some states use UN and multilateral fora to engage in what is sometimes called "policy laundering." If you can't get a policy through your own parliament, you get it through a UN body or an international body and make them force states to do it, and then you have an excuse to hide behind. Take, for example, counterterrorism policy.

The Security Council doesn't have an inbox that you can crash, like the secretary of state, but the secretary-general does. Was that a factor in all of this? Can you say anything more generally?

Surprisingly little if it's a direct engagement with the United Nations. This shifted over time, and I'm probably focusing on the early years of the movement more, because that's where some of the problems got entrenched. But there was a sense that everything had to go through the United States, and also a sense that if you got the United States on the right page, wherever you thought that right page was, they could make it happen at the Security Council. Again, this was the Rwanda argument. If the United States had just pushed to get peacekeepers through rather than blocking it, then you would have had peacekeepers.

What you had on Darfur was, in fact, the United States pushing to have peacekeepers, but other countries blocking it. In fact, the United States was pushing so hard that it even gave other countries, which perhaps would have blocked it—I'm sure would have blocked it anyway—a convenient excuse to just stand in opposition to the United States, because in the global political climate post-Iraq that was a domestically useful thing for a bunch of countries to do.

But, no, there was not a lot of real understanding of how the negotiations were happening inside the United Nations. You had a shift in late 2006 to holding demonstrations outside the United Nations, but not so much in the direct involvement with people that are doing policy at the United Nations.

It's interesting to talk to Jean-Marie Guéhenno, who was the head of peacekeeping operations through much of this period, feeling like the United States was—and perhaps I shouldn't attribute this solely to him. The United States was getting a lot of heat from its constituents to do something on Darfur and to get peacekeepers in. It was easy enough for the United States to grandstand at the Security Council, pushing for these things. They were doing their own feedback to the domestic constituency, saying, "See? We went to the United Nations. We tried really hard and nothing happened."

This was a line that Bush used, and said, "This failure is on your head, United Nations, if it doesn't happen."

Well, okay, but how hard are you working your multilateral channels to actually make it happen, rather than just using it as a sort of bully pulpit, to then feed back to your citizen movement to say that you are trying to do something?

Just a comment on that. It's interesting that when you look at the solutions that were being pushed for as well, there was this very clear call for peacekeepers. You spell it out. It was something that people could grasp hold of. They knew it was a UN role, but they thought of it as a solution because it should have been the solution in the previous case. It wasn't. That was entirely divorced from, as all good UN-ophiles know, the conversation when you essentially ask peacekeepers to be peace enforcers and how difficult that is. As you said, that really wasn't part of the discussion in the advocacy movement.

There's a lovely—I will misquote it—it's something along the lines of one of the advocacy leaders saying that it was something of a revelation that just because you got a UN Security Council resolution passed, you didn't have peacekeepers on the ground. That was a huge learning curve.

Nicola Reindorp. I'm incredibly grateful for the insights, and my mind is teeming with things to say. I'm going to try to be disciplined.

I was the head of Oxfam International's office in the period that you are writing about, and so it resonates, from the perspective, I suppose, of the elite advocates. What you have done, even today, when I haven't had the chance to read the book, is to distill, in the way that Samantha Power distilled, arguably, almost better in the Atlantic Monthly article, the processes that happen inside the foreign-policymaking procedure that advocates have to counter if they are going to get governments to focus on areas that are not inherently strategically valuable, as interest has historically been cast. You are now capturing processes around the mirror image of that in a way that is incredibly powerful.

I want to come back by asking three related questions.

One quick observation. One of the challenges on the question of the emergence of the BRICs is—and like everything, it's a position of rank ignorance on my part—one of the challenges that you have in watching Brazil, India, and South Africa at this moment is that they are not yet seeing themselves fully as global players. They see themselves and they see their strategy within the United Nations and on global issues through an aggressively bilateral, national perspective. What I'm interested to see is to what extent their publics are in synch or out of synch with that. To what extent do you have Brazilians and Indians who are thinking more globally than their government?

Certainly, from one of the bits of work that I'm involved with by being on the board of Crisis Action, you have a challenge right now. When we think about, in Africa, could you get African activists to be caring about Sri Lanka in 2010? It's really hard.

In that same way, you can't become a global superpower until you've actually got enough space to think about your own immediate interests being met.

So there are interesting things there about the nature of mobilization. Is it inherently and always going to be local? And how do you mobilize the right constituency with a local target?

The question I want to ask: You describe so powerfully and cogently the challenge of simplicity. Is there evolution coming, in your experience, in the citizen engagement that you see of being able to have your cake and eat it too? To actually use this beast that has to be fed, that needs simplicity because it's the nature of it, and actually give it complexity, partiality, mess, and still keep your very tired, working mother engaged? Do you see that evolution happening?

In the same way, do you see politicians actually evolving in their awareness—the Natsios argument, the cable, of policymakers thinking we shouldn't always get pressed? My instincts are that neither of those two things is changing, that your tired, overworked working mother that's the activist is always going to have things. You have the same perennial problem with politicians that are still concerned about the same thing.

So I would be really interested to see if there is any evolution.

The other bit is again, a very egocentric question. Do you see lessons and changing practice in the interaction between the elite advocates and the citizen engagement? I was there lobbying the Security Council in April 2004, from the end of 2003, when we were trying to get the council to focus on Darfur. You watch the policy lens shift. It's always limited. We were saying to council members in capitals and in New York, "You have got to understand. Don't do a sequence"—our argument was, "Don't sequence, where you can sort North-South, then you deal with Darfur. This is an integral problem."

That was the message that we got. There was this very powerful swell that was pushing the United States in a particular way. It has ricocheted backwards again.

But what are we learning about how best, or better, to use what citizen engagement can do to link or interact? What is the nature of that interaction at its most effective? Is there an evolution there?

First, on the evolution question, I think you're right. Your tired, overworked mother, for want of a better stereotype, is still not going to be reading your policy paper on Sudan and how all these different things are integrated. But I'm seeing that those people will start to fade away. What you lose in breadth, you start to gain in depth over time.

A couple of groups are interesting. One is the student groups. On Darfur, you have STAND. They started off as Students Taking Action Now for Darfur, and now they just call themselves STAND, because they want to move beyond Darfur, potentially. They are people who do have time to read and are naturally critical, and so are starting to engage in this reflective conversation and think about how in their future efforts—and they are going to be an organization that stays beyond Darfur—they can generate a more sophisticated narrative about what is going on. So they are one potential source for hope.

It's hard. I wonder if it would be quite as hard if you hadn't gone with such a simplified and specific narrative to begin with. Back to your cognitive psych of framing, whatever is the first issue that brings you in has such a powerful impact on everything else that you hear. It's very hard to get the update that doesn't quite jibe with your initial framework of "Darfur is the most and only important thing that you should be paying attention to in the whole entire world, and your voice is critical to save it or not." If that's where you started, you are really facing an uphill battle if you are the person that is trying to update that narrative. If you had started on a less extreme story, maybe it wouldn't be quite as difficult.

But you are going to lose the rank-and-file volunteer in the process. Maybe that's not a bad thing.Maybe in a lot of cases you actually don't need the 10,000, 20,000 to turn out on the Mall, and a core of people that can genuinely say they are citizens and not employed by these organizations, who have a more sophisticated understanding of what's going on—maybe they can move mountains.

If you think about what it took to get such a huge reaction on the congressional level, we are not talking about the sorts of numbers that the NRA has here. It was relatively few people, but enough to just tip the balance, because people weren't used to hearing from citizen constituents on an issue like this.

The interaction between elites and the movement were obviously particularly fraught on Darfur, given calls for a no-fly zone, and humanitarians getting absolutely, and rightly, freaked out by that, and then the whole International Criminal Court. You had a setup of antagonism early on that was hard to shift.

The people who have stayed with the movement—again, you have had this evolution within the people who have stayed—are much keener than the people who began the movement to really get the input of the elite actors, really seeing that they needed it, and very conscious that there were some really big mistakes. Yes, there has definitely been an evolution on that score.

Something that I find interesting is the question of where citizen advocates get their policy prescriptions from. I don't know if anyone from the Crisis Group wants to talk about this, but there was an initial effort where the Crisis Group would develop their incredibly great and sophisticated policy recommendations that they formulate, and you were going to have this new organization called the Enough Movement that was going to do the mobilization of the popular side, and this would be your marriage made in heaven.

That really didn't work out, and so you now have Enough doing their policy formulation in-house. Maybe that works. Maybe you want to raise the risks that come with that as a consequence of the feed-the-beast problem. Are you more inclined to put out policy prescriptions that a citizen movement of volunteers can actually do something with? Maybe that's what you should be doing. Maybe if you get particularly powerful, you then skew the conversation.

I don't know if there are any Congo people in the room at the moment. There is a lot of frustration within that community that feels like the conversation on Congo is all about conflict minerals, and there is a lot else going on, but it's being crowded out by that conversation.

I'm not sure what the perfect model on that is.

I'm Caroline Lampen. I work at the American Jewish Committee, which actually did a big Darfur Now campaign at the time.

I have a bit more of a general question, following up on what you were just saying about the relationship between the citizen mass and the human-rights elite. I'm wondering, at the onset of a movement, what is the interaction between the two? I know you talked about the evolution over time and maybe targeting a more specific group within that mass. But I'm curious to know, at the beginning of an advocacy movement, what their interaction is.

You talked about how we often simplify issues for the mass. I'm wondering, to what extent is that really the best tool to jumpstart a new advocacy movement for a human right? For the women's-rights movement in the 1990s, they used the generic human-rights issue frame to bring that movement about. To what extent is more than just simplification a good tool to bring about a new movement?

At the very, very beginning, this was a very insular movement. Again, this goes back to this question of the founding narratives, and how they saw themselves in the line of people that were going to be upstanders instead of bystanders to genocide.

The places that they were looking for the kind of intellectual foundations of it were not the other elite actors out there in different crosscutting realms that you could have argued should have been feeding into it, but they were looking back historically: Why is it that we have failed in so many genocides? So it was an insular and narrow looking-backwards that was hoping to do better moving forward, rather than broad and looking to other disciplines.

That was at the very start, and that led to the problems that we saw. That's genuinely different now. There is a pretty substantial awareness that that's not enough, that it's not enough to know everything about why Armenia happened, why the Holocaust happened, and that's not going to solve your situation. There is much more willingness to have a broader conversation, so that's a plus.

Simplification is not where you would ideally want to start a movement. But part of the reason it gets done—and I don't think Darfur is the only situation that this has happened for—is that it's really quick. If you feel like you are responding to a situation where people are dying today, you go for what is quick and effective. And simplification is. It's very good at that stage. It then creates a lot of problems later.

If you were, instead, coming at this as, "How do we want to found a movement that is going to be the citizen conscience on the prevention of mass atrocities over time?" that's a different starting conversation. I hope that's one that the newly merged organization of Save Darfur and GI-NET could be having now.

But the foundations of the Darfur movement were this mad scramble to deal with something that had already been going on for a year before anyone started paying attention, because it hadn't been covered in the media.

QUESTION: My name is Chris. I wanted to ask a couple of questions that might lead to a little bit more detailed discussion of the China aspect of the campaign and what the successes and failures in meeting the Chinese resistance might tell us about any future similar situations. Specifically there are two things.

Number one, when you talk about a tension between the elite advocacy community and the ground level, I'm curious to what extent the difference between those two had to do with the nuances that the elite advocacy people understood they had to use when talking about the Chinese relationship.

As a related question—this isn't particularly a close area of my study—I seem to remember that part of the Chinese response was that the—I can't remember if it was PetroChina or CNOOC [China National Offshore Oil Corporation] had been developing the resources and had been going off on a little bit of their own policy, but the fact that they were listed here in New York allowed there to be some advocacy lever to be pushed directly on the company. Part of the story within the Chinese energy industry is the extent to which they all really do follow the policy that comes down every five years in a nice package.

I'm just curious what that might tell us about the future.

There's something that you said in the first part of the question that is an important distinction to draw. The people in the U.S. government who have a position on what Darfur advocates should do on China are coming at it from a very different set of objectives. They need an ongoing relationship with China. That's a very different thing to citizen activists, who just want to get China to move on a Darfur policy. When building a relationship with China, it's probably not very helpful to do a mass public shaming Genocide Olympics campaign. But that's okay. That's a good thing.

What I certainly got from UN Security Council members or their staff who were working on these resolutions that involved China at the time was a sort of appreciation for the fact that people outside the system, the citizen advocates, could do the big, ugly, un-nuanced shame campaign that they could never and wouldn't want to do. That's a nice division of labor to have.

I don't want to overstate China. Two days after the campaign was launched, they appointed a special envoy on Darfur, which they hadn't done before. It doesn't mean a shift in policy; it just means you got their attention. But they did do a reversal on the issue of peacekeepers. Everybody you speak to who was involved in that points very specifically to saying, yes, it was the pressure of the Olympics. But that didn't last after the Olympics window of leverage had passed. It was then straight back to business as usual. So it wasn't a sustainable change. Maybe those people in government who are working quietly and slowly are getting sustainable changes over time.

Divestment—as someone who is involved in the founding of divestment, it was never going to be the decisive factor financially. Even with the huge investments that state legislatures had through the pension funds in, say, PetroChina, we were still not going to tip the financial balance. As much as the divestment advocates were getting pushback with PetroChina trying to say, "Well, we're separate from the state," everybody knew that that was not true. That wasn't a big part of the conversation or a big problem. That was relatively easy to dismiss.

What divestment did do usefully was to highlight that there were other actors in the system besides the United States. That might have ended up being the greatest benefit of it.

Divestment is interesting, too, for the fact that you now have Conflict Risk Network being formed. The people who did learn lessons on Darfur investment are taking that and looking forward on what businesses can be doing as they start to get involved in other countries that could also be at risk of mass atrocity.

Back to the point about whether there is any hope, that also actually came from the initiative of students who were critical and self-reflective about the process that they had been involved in initially.

Just to add on that, because it intersects absolutely with what I do, I have been working with Conflict Risk Network on the engagements that they have with various Chinese and Malaysian companies that are currently invested in Sudan, and an increasing number of other companies that are operating in difficult, conflict-affected environments.

I wanted to ask you this, because you came into this through the divestment angle—their approach is now very much about saying: Where are there opportunities for engagement with these companies? Where can we find levers to use to pressure them? Is it possible to get to an ideal situation in which multinationals are operating in those kinds of environments with support, or at least engagement, from key local stakeholders, and they are actually working as a force for good rather than just, it's in and you do bad or you're out and you don't contribute?

I would just be interested to see what you think.

REBECCA HAMILTON: That's exactly the sort of lessons-learning. There is actually very far that you can advance the process on an engagement model with these companies. You shouldn't start with "let's get them out." That's a more nuanced story to tell. Yet they have managed to do that. There are a bunch of citizen divestment activists out there now who get that story.

It's not initially where the story started. Initially it was this simplistic, "Get them out," and then a kind of, "We saw what happened when Talisman was booted out of South Sudan and we didn't like who came in next."

RACHEL DAVIS: And it was Talisman that left, not PetroChina.

Right, exactly.

QUESTION: Tracy Austin.

I have a question about the simplification and what exactly was simplified and what the complexities were that were difficult to integrate into the activist movement.

It's hard to say what was not. If I had to boil it down—

Simplify it.

There we go. If I had to simplify it, it would be fair to say that Darfur was not understood as a place that existed within a country called Sudan. Darfur was a place that fell along the line of your genocide situations, the most salient at that time being Rwanda because of the tenth anniversary. The learning that tried to go on and the resources that people were directed to were about learning about past genocides in other places, not about how what was happening in Darfur couldn't really be understood without reference to everything else that was going on in Sudan.

That was the core simplification.

QUESTIONER: [Not at microphone]

REBECCA HAMILTON: No, I don't even think that that's the most important question in this. We all got very caught up in, is it not genocide? Certainly there were mass atrocities. I would get beyond the is-it-not-genocide debate and say, if there are mass atrocity crimes, then there may well be a role for citizens to play in pushing governments out of their status-quo position on these things.

But I don't think that that was the big problem in the simplification. The big problem was not understanding Darfur in the context of Sudan.

QUESTION: We are here at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, so I wanted to ask you a question around ethics. A lot of people look at advocacy movements like the one in Darfur as innately ethical, because you're an advocate and so you are doing something for the greater good. But as you pointed out in some of your earlier remarks, there remain certain ethical issues and choices that advocates must make. The one that stuck out to me was, accountability to which group? To the group that you are advocating for or to the advocacy group itself, in terms of lobbying for policies?

Can you expand on how advocates weigh their options in a responsible manner and how you think they should weigh those options, and also other ethical challenges that you saw these advocates coming up against?

The key one is this issue of whom you are accountable to. That feeds into the question of who is in your movement—the Gloria White Hammond quote, "How is it that we have a Darfur movement, and where are the Darfuris?"

If you are right in the midst of direct violence and mass atrocity, you are not expecting that Darfuris are going to be leading the charge, necessarily. But that's not a situation that we are in for a lot of this. There are very strong Darfuri leaders, both in Darfur and in the diaspora. If you had them integrated into a movement, then you run into less of the problem of whom you are accountable to, which Darfur ran into. So that would help, but there may still be, even with that, an element of whom you are accountable to, not least of which because Darfuris have 50 million different views on what the best way to go forward is.

But that's the core one. If you have the luxury of thinking through how to start a movement, then you should be thinking through these questions of what the beginning narrative is that we want to open this up on, knowing that that then sets the direction for a lot of what will come. But I'm not sure that it's fair to say—yes, in an ideal world, the beginnings of the Darfur movement should have done that, but it was also this very ad hoc scramble. Now, having learnt this, the question is, where do you take it forward? I'm really hoping that the ethical dilemmas in this can start to spur some of those conversations.

Thank you very much, Bec. Thank you to all of you for quite a rich discussion.

You mentioned a couple of times this key word that came up in the movement, "upstander," and the importance of being an upstander. One of the quotes on the back of Bec's book is from none other than Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, who calls Bec "the model of an upstander," which seems only appropriate.

Join me in thanking her and thanking CNL.

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